DEKALB – When there are ghosts in New York City, people call the Ghostbusters. When there is an animal emergency in DeKalb County, they call Dan Berres.
Berres, who has been a warden of the DeKalb County Animal Control Department for 15 years, has many stories to tell and pictures to prove some of the bizarre animal situations he has seen. He has saved ducks, rescued lost dogs, and driven with a tiger in the back of his van.
“Dogs slip through doors and gates. We want to get them home,” he said. “We’re not out there looking to take people’s pets away from them. We’re not the dog catcher running around with nets. That’s a perception and a misconception that people often have.”
Berres and his partner, Jenny Eisman, patrol the entire county and are on call 24/7. They respond to at least three calls each day.
“We’re a team,” Eisman said. “We work together, and we always know what the other is doing.”
MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton stopped by Berres’ office in the DeKalb County Health Department to learn what life as an animal control warden is like.
Milton: What do you do?
Berres: The designation of a warden means that you have the control of a county. An officer would be in a city or town. We enforce laws pertaining to the Animal Control Act and county ordinances. …It’s basically animal and rabies control. We make sure that all the dogs are vaccinated and register them to make sure that they are protected from rabies. We also uphold animal rights in the county, investigate animal attacks, and send samples to the lab for testing. We pick up stray animals, stray dogs, in unincorporated areas. Our holding facility is the Malta vet clinic. We hold them for a maximum of seven days, then they either go to a humane shelter or a foster or rescue organization. If they are too sick or injured, then they are euthanized.
Luckily, not too many have to be put down; most of them find a spot in a place that can help them find a home.
Milton: Tell me some of the things that you don’t do.
Berres: Right now, there are no laws pertaining to cats, so we don’t really handle cats. We handle wildlife in emergency situations and when we have the time and the resources. We get calls about opossums stuck in window wells and ducklings in sewer grates. We get them out and take them to Oaken Acres Wildlife Refuge and Rehabilitation Center in Sycamore. They have a license to handle and rehabilitate; we do not. We also do not handle nuisance animals, such as raccoons in attics. We refer them to pest control. …People also call us about rats and mice, and we don’t handle rodents. We don’t do a lot of big things, but we do a lot of little things, we try to resolve conflicts and emergencies.
Milton: You mentioned a tiger.
Berres: It was somebody’s pet and they got arrested. They didn’t have a permit. It started out that somebody was driving through Sandwich in a pickup truck with a window cap that was open. When the truck stopped, a tiger popped its head out of the window, and the guy behind him called 911. They called me at 2 in the morning, saying, “Oh, yeah, we have a tiger.” I came to pick up the tiger and it was in the back of my van. It was the scariest ride of my life.
…I think that the tiger went to the Phillips Zoo and now is somewhere in Colorado.
Milton: What is your favorite animal?
Berres: I like dogs. I like big dogs, German shepherds. Personally, I love all animals, but dogs are my favorite.
Milton: Have you ever thought of having a dog for your department as a service dog?
Berres: Well, yes. My dog was a search and rescue dog, and I had to put him down last week. …His name was Carter. I worked with him for quite a few years.
Milton: I’m sorry to hear about Carter. Working with animals must be really emotional for you. Is it difficult at times?
Berres: Yes, it often is. Some of the things that I’ve seen turn my stomach, especially cases of abuse and neglect. It’s been 15 years, and I still think about and can picture some of the animals I’ve seen. Some cases are really sad, but others, like the ducks, are happy. But we usually get called for the bad.
Milton: What is an average day like for you?
Berres: You never know from one minute to the next what might happen. It could be a snake left in the basement, or a tiger, or duck that’s been shot with a blow dart. We helped bring a duck that was shot with a blow dart to rehabilitation. I often show pictures of that duck, and everybody assumed that it died, but it was released back into the wild.
…I get into the office around 8 a.m. I check the phones, listen to messages. I look to see if we received any faxes regarding animal bites from the local hospitals. Then I prioritize what I have to do next, from going out on calls to patrolling areas.
Milton: What made you become an animal control warden?
Berres: Well, I’ve always been interested in law enforcement. I was in the auxiliary with the Sycamore police, and then I was a part-time ordinance officer. I think that they call them community service officers now. When Sycamore decided to have an animal control officer, that was me. When the county warden decided to leave, I was recruited over. I never really set out to be with animals, it kind of just happened that way. And I’m happy for it.
Milton: What is your motivation?
Berres: Well, it’s often different. I’ve always been interested in law enforcement, since that’s how I got started. And we are enforcement officers. Doing this job is good because we can not only protect the public from dangers, but we can also help animals. Our main motivation is to resolve conflicts between humans and animals, so that neither one is hurt. That’s satisfying, when you can actually accomplish that.
Milton: Do you have any advice for people now that spring is coming?
Berres: Make sure that you keep tags on your dogs. I’m a big advocate of tags and microchips, because we have a scanner. Without a tag or chip, there is no way to identify pets. …Also, I want to remind people that bat season is approaching. If somebody has a bat in their house, make sure to call us. Bats are the number one rabies carrier, and they can be very dangerous.